Tag Archives: Mission

Churches Shaped By Mission

NT Wright on “Church Shaped by Mission” from Fuller Theological Seminary on Vimeo.

If you lead or serve in a local church, than this post is for you. Hold off on watching the video above for a second.

Last week I was in a meeting of a group of ministers and seminary professors who were trying to figure out how churches and seminaries can work better together for training future ministers.

It was an incredible meeting, and kudos to our seminaries for caring enough to ask the question, “How can we do better?” One of the more interesting parts of the conversation came when one of the ministers was talking about the tension between the ideal and the real. The way he said it was that he was, “I learned in seminary to be suspicious of anything that worked. Because pragmatic or practical ministry involves compromise and using methods that are less than ideal.”

And immediately we all knew what he meant.

I mean can we really say that the Cross “worked?” Isn’t Christianity a faith about dying to ourselves? Should we really compromise in order to be more effective?

But the problem is that in order to lead a local church you have to compromise and learn to work pragmatically. You are dealing with real people with problems that don’t come in textbook formats. And you learn quickly in ministry that for all your preparations and theories that the local church isn’t a laboratory. And that what works in theory doesn’t always work in practice.

So back to this video. This video is from the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright teaching at Fuller Seminary a few years ago. They were asking him about this exact thing, he was talking to preachers from churches from a hundred different traditions, who were basically wanting to know how to do we hold this tension between the ideal and the real?

I love his answer.

Keep the ideal in mind. Remember that there is a new Heaven and a New Earth coming, and remember what that vision for the future looks like, because that’s more than just the Christian hope. That’s the Christian mission.

It is the mission that should inform every church.

Let’s just hopefully and pragmatically stumble toward that.

The Red Thread Movement

So I just returned from a couple of weeks in Nepal working with the ministry Eternal Threads. It’s a great ministry that I highly commend that is working to create connections between 3rd and 1st world countries, and providing fair trade opportunities for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. (In fact, if you are a person with any influence in your church, and would like to throw a gathering for your church to shop and make a difference in the world at the same time, you can email eternalthreads@mac.com)

One part of the Eternal Threads ministry is something that has grown exponentially over the past couple of years. It’s called the Red Thread Movement, and what it is doing for the girls in Nepal is unreal!  For those of you who haven’t heard, The Red Thread Movement is an ACU student initiative that helps women who have been sexually trafficked from Nepal to India (over 12,000 girls are trafficked in Nepal every year) and because the culture is a very honor/shame based culture, most of the girls who are trafficked are too ashamed, or not allowed to go back home.

So Eternal Threads helps them go to a safe home where they are taught a sustainable business skill like sewing or being a beautician and then sent back to their villages. And they take the Gospel with them! These girls are planting churches in villages that no Western missionary could reach, and it’s working like crazy!

It starts like a mustard seed, and just keeps going.

But it’s not enough to tell you this in the abstract. So let me introduce you to Gita:

Gita came from a small village in Nepal, where her mother left to become a migrant worker overseas to hopefully raise money for her struggling family. That was over 5 years ago…they haven’t heard from her since. So Gita’s dad eventually remarried, and her step-mother was less than kind to Gita. The family had no money and then Gita met “Romeo.” He promised her the world and gave her hell. He romanced her, proposed to her, and slept with her, all within just a short time of knowing her.

Then “Romeo” told Gita that what he really wanted to do was get married in India, Gita didn’t have much holding her to her small village in Nepal, her prospects were extremely limited, so she went. And it’s here that Gita’s life really turns on a dime. At the border she was stopped by girls at a border station, girls who had previously been trafficked themselves, and it’s here that Gita learns about the true intentions about the love of her life.

She was less than 10 yards from a life of Hell on earth. And she was stopped.

They say that it takes the average girl anywhere from 1-3 months to be able to face the reality of what has actually happened to her, and how close she actually came to being forced into sexual slavery. At first they deny it, they think he really loved them, or that he really was trying to get them a legitimate job in India. But when it finally dawns on them what has happened they need more than just a place to stay.

They need the Gospel.  Continue reading The Red Thread Movement

The Strange Nature of Leaving

So hang with me on this one…If you were an alien just coming down to check out the world for the first time. If you were hoping to see what we valued and held as important, where would you go?

Now if you as an alien, wanted to discover what the richest people of the world cared about, not the insanely rich that most Americans are tempted to compare themselves to. (That kind of research would be easy, you’d just have to watch Cribz) but the people who are wealthier than the vast majority of the world. You know the ones who can eat any time they want to, and actually own a car and have a roof over their heads. In America we tend to call them something like middle class, but only because we compare them to Donald Trump.

You would recognize this all as an alien because you don’t need to think in the categories that we, as insiders, have been given and think within.

So where would you go as an alien to research what these very wealthy people care about. I submit to you, potential travelling researching alien that you would go to the airport. You would fly on a plane, a luxury reserved for the very few elite of the world who actually have enough money to defy gravity and move across the world as easily as if Delhi was just a bus ride away.

And there you would find Sky Mall.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on airplanes the last few days, now we are hanging out in the Katmandu airport, with 1 flight down and 3 more to go.  When were finally home, we will have spent half a week in the sky. And after a while the siren’s call of the sky mall can overpower the strongest of persons. So you find yourselves find thumbing through the most insane of products thinking to yourself, what idiot would buy this? And then you suddenly find something that you realize you cannot live without, answering your own question.

But as I read through Sky Mall these last few days, I noticed something that I never had before. Every product that Sky Mall sells really falls into a couple of categories.

  1. Comfort
  2. Entertainment
  3. Not being bald Continue reading The Strange Nature of Leaving

A Restoration Movement

So this past weekend at the Highland Church of Christ, we talked about the vision for Highland for the next 10 years of her existence. It was the product of 18 months of the staff and shepherd praying, fasting and discerning what we would be about of the next decade. It was one of my favorite weekends in ministry so far. We plan to adopt a housing first model to address the disproportional amount of homelessness in Abilene, we plan to adopt a local at-risk school, develop two community centers in lower socio-economic areas of town, host service events on our campus a few times a year, get into micro-financing, water-wells, church planting and triple the amount of money that goes out externally.

You know the basics.

And we are doing it all to partner with God in his dream of Restoration. We’re calling it A Restoration Movement.

It’s new, and it’s old, it’s ancient/future. And we believe it’s from God.

But we are also hoping that it will be a Restoration Movement which means we believe that there are other churches that are out there who might be interested in how to go about creating, casting and implementing a vision for their church to become externally focused. And if we can, we’d like to help you get there. We are still working out the kinks on what that might look like, but I would imagine if your church is interested in something like this we can give you study resources, suggested reading lists and conversation partners, and more.

In the words of Jerry Taylor, “The Restoration Movement hasn’t restored very much, and it hasn’t moved anywhere in a long time.” But the language that we have used is great! It’s the language of the younger emergent Jesus followers, and the language of their parents and grandparents, and even better…it’s the language that is old as the Christian story itself. It’s God dream of Restoring, and the church is called to partner with this dream.

I believe that in the 70’s and 80’s people looked back on the churches of their past and asked, “How could we have been so racist?” I believe that in the 2000’s people stared looking back and asking, “How could we have been so patriarchal? or Sectarian?” And I believe that the next question we are going to (and already are) looking back and asking is, “How could we have been so selfish?”

Why do churches spend so much money on themselves? We spend over 90% on our church budgets devoted primarily to meeting the needs of the people who are in the buildings that we worship for one hour a week in. That’s ungodly. It’s time to do something about that. It’s time for churches to move toward blessing the communities and world around them.

It’s time for a movement. Continue reading A Restoration Movement

Below the Line

So this will be my last post on my time in Hollywood, thanks for putting up with me taking a detour from normal blog stuff to write about this. If you missed some of them I wrote about it  here,  herehere and here, besides the past two weeks of posts.

After a few hours of being on the set of Good Christian Belles for a few hours, I had come to grips with the reality of what was going on, I was sitting in the holding area and day-dreaming about worst-case scenarios And that’s when Allison spoke up. She had heard that I was a preacher and was intrigued by the fact that I was doing this…particularly this show. Allison had been married before, to a Jewish man She had grown up, and was living in the Bible Belt- and when she married she was vilified by Christian people who she had  grown up with. They saw her marriage as a mixed marriage, and instead of engaging her they kept her at arm length, even telling her from a distance that her marriage was offensive to God.

Allison made the point that the show that we were filming was pretty close to home for her. She had been wounded by Church, and Church people.

She made the point that when she thought about Christians, she automatically thought about the American Families Values Association, the very association that had boycotted the show we were working on. Then she said, “I don’t know a lot about organized religion anymore, but I just want you to know I think it’s cool that you are here doing this.”

Matt Maxwell is a guy who grew up at Highland (the church I work at) and now he works in Hollywood behind the camera. He and his wife love Jesus, are plugged into a community of faith, and view their work as both creative expressions of who God made them to be, and as missionaries. Here’s an email he sent me last week that I asked to share with you:

“This question of where we–as Christians– should work and use our talents is a constant conversation and struggle with me and many here in the entertainment industry. So many worry, wonder and ask about that one line that if we cross we no longer represent our Lord and our faith. But this conversation has always rubbed me wrong because the underlying problem is not how the world might perceive us Christians but how our Christian world and friends might perceive us and, in my eyes, this is a mistake.

I had a conversation with a dear friend several months ago who shared his resentment about working in post-production on the new, and now canceled, Playboy Club. He was considering talking to his superiors about moving to another show. I understood exactly where he was coming from but I kept thinking about all the lives he wouldn’t be able to touch.
Continue reading Below the Line

Good Christian Belles

So I kept silent about this for a few months because I wanted to tell this story at our home church first. I’m so glad to preach at a church like Highland where I can tell stories like this, and preach sermons about the Kingdom of God without pulling any punches, if you’d like to hear that sermon you can go here. But  since I’ve now told the story there…here’s what happened:

This past summer, I was on my study break that Highland gives me, I knew I was going to do a sermon series on minor characters in the Bible, using the metaphor of EXTRAS. So I decided to go to Hollywood and try and be an EXTRA in a movie. You know, normal preacher stuff.

After many attempts, on July 27th I got into the new Annie movie with Christian Bale. I called in, and after a few tries got through, a lady named Marianne, accepted me as a working class restaurant patron. I had to borrow a shirt without a label, and some shoes (apparently Hollywood is pretty picky about what they let you wear).

The call time is posted at 8:30 Pm; all details are held until that time. So I call in and find out that my call time is 6:00 A.M..So I got to the Disney Studios and discovered that it wasn’t anywhere the New Annie, And Christian Bale wasn’t going to be starring as Daddy Warbucks. This was for the new show Good Christian Belle’s that had been booked by Maryann as a favor to a woman named Annie.

It’s cool though. I can roll with the punches.

The first thing that happens when you show up to a set is that you have to get  camera ready. So you have to go visit the Wardrobe production person. In my case, it was an Austrian man named Hans who just happened to not be a morning person. Which was unfortunate because it just happened to be morning. He made the girl in front of me cry because she didn’t have her clothes ironed. He yelled at her and then looked at me. Hans had me intimated. I had been there all of 10 minutes and was already on the ropes. I told him that I didn’t have a lot of options, just one shirt to change into, and he said sharply, “Then go put it on! And stop standing here.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

I went to the basement where they were holding the Extras, and it was un-classy to say the least. Having done Jail ministry for a while, there was very little difference between the rooms that we were kept in, and jail. The room for men to change in was an old storage unit.

Breakfast was served, and that was nice. People started to warm up. I’ve learned the best way to start conversations with other Extra’s is to ask them about what work they were the most proud of.  What sets they enjoyed working on the most…and to tell them that it was my first time ever to do this. People seemed to take me under their wing and tell me their stories. The problem came when they wanted to hear mine. I guess most preachers don’t do this in their off time, especially the show that we were on.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading Good Christian Belles

Provoked, Not Offended

Gabe and Rebekah Lyons were just like any other young, expecting parents.They were excited about the potential about their new, little bundle of joy that they were planning on welcoming into the world. They walked into that doctor’s office that day expecting the news that a healthy baby boy was developing inside of her. But that’s not the news that they were given.

They were told that their unborn son, Cade, was in all likely-hood, going to have Down Syndrome, and their hearts sunk. Now in their own words, they’ve learned a lot about how great a life with a child with this particular syndrome can be. But on that day, they were devastated. And they were immediately presented with the option of terminating the pregnancy. Most babies with Down Syndrome aren’t born. The majority of parents (90%) when given this news, choose to end the pregnancy. Here’s how Gabe Lyons talks about this:

“No matter where you come down on the abortion issue, that number is staggering. Unfortunately, when parents are faced with this diagnosis, everything in the culture points them toward the baby’s extinction. Insurance companies don’t’ want to pay the long-term health care bills, the government ins’t eager to carry the weight of future expenses, and doctors want to avoid malpractice suits at all costs.”

Now the Lyon’s went on to have Cade, and he’s been a joy to their life ever since. They could’ve just ranted and raved about how their doctors tried hard to steer them toward terminating the pregnancy, but they chose another route. Instead of just protesting about how bad the current culture was, they decided to create some more of it. Continue reading Provoked, Not Offended


A few months ago a college student came into my office with a question. They had felt called to go to into missions, specifically at a country that was in a time of political upheaval. Everyday in this country, bombs were going off, and people were getting killed. Needless to say, it wasn’t a popular tourist trap, but my friend still wanted to go.

The problem was that this college student had parents. And like any parents, they didn’t want their kid to go to this dangerous of a location. Which is understandable. But that didn’t change what this college student felt. They really thought God wanted them to go to this country, but they wanted to honor their parents. And so they asked me what they should do. Should they stay or go?

What would you tell them?

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Risk for the past year or so. I like this way of talking about Jesus-following a lot, it is, after all, s a synonym for Faith. And that’s important, because the word faith has gotten a lot of baggage theses days. It’s started to mean to just believe something cognitively, but that’s a definition that James would take issue with.

But this is a hard word for most churches. Institutions, by their very nature, don’t like risk. But Faith, by it’s very nature, is risk. So what does an institution that tries to form a risk-taking people look like? Continue reading Risk